There are no shows here, he said. There is only light, sound and magic.
He was fifty-two then, when the local rags seized the delicious sound bite. What Caliban and the Travelling Circus of Valletta had attempted to do was unprecedented; nobody could deny that much. A proper variety show, lasting beyond two, three weekends and into the entire year. Nobody here had the funds, or the audiences for that.
Valletta is in ruins, he continued, and we will make her weep at the memory of her greatness.
After the trainee journalist left the backstage, the troupe began a run through without Caliban – their portly leader decided his trip to the grocery store couldn’t wait.
Peaches, he said. My wife loves peaches and we’re all out.
They knew about her love of peaches – it was the only insight into his private life that they got – it was everything else they were blind to. The clothes he just layered and layered on himself (even as the merciless Mediterranean summer encroached on the humid isle), the leather jacket he draped over it all, the sunglasses he wore even indoors and the hat – a ridiculous cowboy hat – finished off with the equally preposterous, inexplicable moniker.
The run was perfect. It was a shame Caliban wasn’t there to see it. When he returned to the black box theatre, he was clutching a bag on peaches in one hand. He stared at the troupe for a few moments; their faces – varied as they were – all wore the same mixture of satisfaction and relief.
He went backstage without saying a word. Later, some of the troupe would whisper that they saw tears in his eyes.
“Caliban is not so much a mystery, as a caricature with no context,” Cynthia said once, over drinks at The Crushed Petal, a pretentious bar the troupe attended because they couldn’t be bothered to walk to anywhere better after rehearsals, and performances too.
They all agreed with Cynthia’s assessment, and they agreed too that Caliban should never, ever hear what was said between them. It wasn’t that they were scared – they were co-opted into the doomed project largely in a spirit of defiance – but they could all intuitively sense that the baffling edifice that made up their director would shatter at the first sign of criticism from his troupe. He didn’t call them ‘children’, but Cynthia sometimes dreamt he did.
Cynthia was the most beautiful girl of the troupe. She wasn’t tall but in everything else she was flawless: her skin was porcelain-smooth, her hair was a delicious strawberry blonde and her hips met that perfect Mediterranean meridian of sizable and elegant. She was the troupe’s bearded lady, and she wrote her own jokes.
“Cali directs the show with all the pomposity of a ballet guy, but with none of the discipline, or substance.”
Despite this, she loved him, as they all did.
He did cry that day. His wife had died. The peaches remained backstage for two whole weeks, even after the show ground to an inelegant halt. The final performance welcomed six audience members, four of which were comps. Cynthia had cousins flying over from Brussels, and begged them to come even though begging was not her strong suit.
They met, two weeks later, but not at The Crushed Petal. Valletta was still in ruins, and they had no reason to navigate through them now.
“That journalist sent me a nice email,” Cynthia said. She had broken into a giggle; they were already tipsy from cheap wine. “Did you see the headline? Sound and magic, and all capitalised! I swear this country is shit from top to bottom…”
They wished Caliban were with them. But when they thought about him celebrating anything, they paused their thoughts, and reconsidered.
Photo by Aldo Cauchi Savona.